Monday, September 24, 2007

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.

We have a horrible time of it emotionally in England. We want to be close to others and make friends, yet there is this intricate web of cultural mores we need to observe before we can make contact (I know this sounds suspiciously Jane Austen-ish). I can't invite someone I have just met home with me, unless I am fantastically drunk, in which case I can blame my outre behaviour on alcohol. I must wait until I have met them a few times in company of others I know and then invite them round. I'm just talking friendship here, not dating.

One of the main stresses in many of my patients lives is fear of abandonment. I know that sounds extreme and something a psychologist might link to a damaging childhood experience. But it is the most common human experience - feeling lonely and wanting support. Friends are wonderful and most people have at least one really close friend. But relationships of all sorts are fraught with the fear that we will be rejected and we go though all sorts of games to prevent that happening, by not showing too much of ourselves and staying, 'safe'. How soon can I call someone my best friend? What if I'm not their best friend? Better not to make any such pronouncements (again, unless drunk, in which case everyone is my best friend). How about people I used to know and like but have fallen out of contact with? Can I just start things up again like nothing has happened or do I have to invent some hugely stressful event which prevented me from getting to the phone/writing a letter/emailing, for three years?

These ruminations were sparked by an old friend who I started emailing again after a period of about ten years. This person represents part of my past, but I realised that I had been foolish to let them drift off and that I would like to maintain contact. As we live in the country and they live in a dirty old city, I thought I would invite them to stay. Up until that point emails had been flying back and forward - this person has a very sharp mind and a different way of seeing the world to me - I really got a lot from those emails. Then nothing. After a few months I emailed to ask them where they had gone. Nothing. Then a whole year later I emailed again and this time the correspondence got going again, so I invited them down to stay. Then nothing.....

They had said something previously in an email about communicating with someone that you used to know but has changed and grown up. How it was almost like talking to a stranger, where you could say anything, splurge, be anyone. I think that's what happened here. They felt they had said too much, opened up too far and the emails had transgressed the normal boundaries of friendship etiquette. When presented with the actuality of seeing me they realised that they had been acting drunk without any alcohol to blame it on. Shame.